The War on Drugs Is as Racially Motivated as Ever

The 2016 drug war continued to disproportionately target minorities.

Despite noble attempts by foreign smugglers to move drugs into the United States via cartel-constructed-catapults, underground tunnels, or potentially hidden in weapons shipments––71.8 percent of drug offenders arrested by American law-enforcement pros in 2016 were U.S. citizens, according to recently released federal data. 

The data, which by-the-numbers, paints the U.S. drug war as still being racist as hell, comes from a report by the U.S. Sentencing Commission, a government agency with a mission is “to collect, analyze, research, and distribute a broad array of information on federal crime and sentencing issues,” and in doing so, serve “as an information resource for Congress, the executive branch, the courts, criminal justice practitioners, the academic community, and the public.”

According to the U.S. Sentencing Commission's 2016 Sourcebook:

• Of the year's 19,766 total federal drug cases, 50 percent of offenders were Hispanic, 23.6 percent were black, 22.8 percent were white, and 3 percent were classified by the commission as “other.”

• In 2016, the courts saw 3,528 federal marijuana prosecutions, a not-so-420-friendly number considering the herb’s gray-area legal status, but still less than other, harder drugs, with the exception of crack cocaine.

• Suspectly, 62 percent of people charged with distributing powder cocaine in 2016 were hispanic; 30 percent were black; only 7 percent were white—percentages that fail to reflect usage patterns.

It seems that drugs are more accessible to users than they’ve ever been. Last year, more than 6,618 people were arrested on charges related to methamphetamine, and 2,826 involving heroin. According to the commission's report, men were caught with various types of dope and charged with a drug crime overwhelmingly more often than women––16,749 arrests vs. 3,039 arrests. 

United States drug laws have seemingly always been racially inequitable in regard to who goes to prison for what, and the severity of the sentence received. While powder cocaine has predominantly seen more white, than black users, the inverse is true for crack cocaine—which was mandated with far stricter mandatory incarceration times than powder. This tiered criminalization of dope-usage among people of different races has resulted in skewed sentencing stats. 

According to the New York Times:

"In what’s known as the 100-to-1 rule, federal law mandates a 10-year sentence for anyone caught with 50 grams of crack, about the weight of a candy bar. To get a comparable sentence, a dealer selling powdered cocaine would have to be caught with 5,000 grams, enough to fill a briefcase. . . The [U.S. Sentencing Commission] recently established new guidelines that would provide more lenient sentencing for crack offenses."

Like any war, the drug war is hell. In 2016, more than 33,000 people died from opioid overdoses, according to the Centers For Disease Control and Prevention. The epidemic advances still

Data provided by government organizations akin to the U.S. Sentencing Commission is meant to be examined in ways that influence lawmakers to lessen human suffering through progressive understanding and changing policy. However, it's unclear who, if anyone, in power is crunching the numbers.